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It's official: Layton backs 50%-plus-one rule for Quebec secession

A crowd of Yes supporters wave Quebec flags at a Montreal rally during a live television address by Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Oct. 25, 1995.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Jack Layton is once again stating that a straight majority would be enough for Quebec to legally secede from Canada in the event of a third referendum on sovereignty.

"What constitutes a majority is 50 per cent plus one," Mr. Layton said after announcing his shadow cabinet on Thursday. "That's been crystal clear for five years as the official policy of our party."

At a caucus meeting on Tuesday, however, Mr. Layton repeatedly obfuscated on the matter as he refused to spell out the policy the NDP adopted in 2005, called the Sherbrooke declaration. Instead, Mr. Layton hid behind a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1998 that said that Quebec could secede from Canada as long as a clear majority of Quebeckers responded to a clear question in a referendum.

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"We believe that the decision made by the Supreme Court and accepted by both sides that talks about an important majority, ... we can be moving ahead with that framework," Mr. Layton said at caucus.

However, that ruling led to vastly differing positions on both sides of the constitutional divide. Sovereigntists claimed victory by stating that a unilateral declaration of independence could flow from a referendum organized under provincial laws, with a straight majority as the threshold.

In Ottawa, however, Jean Chrétien's government used the Supreme Court ruling to pass the Clarity Act, stating that a larger majority would be needed to force the federal government to undertake negotiations with the provincial government.

The NDP, which now has a Quebec caucus representing more than half of its seats in the House of Commons, came under pressure this week from the National Assembly, which stands behind the 50-per-cent-plus-one rule.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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